Should India look at quashing death penalty?

In the case of Chhannu Lal Verma vs the State of Chattisgarh, Justice Kurian Joseph has observed that “the time had come to review the need for the death penalty as a punishment, especially its purpose and practice”. These comments have again triggered a debate on whether India must continue the death penalty.

Reviewing Death Penalty:

  • The findings of the Justice Kurian Joseph has underscored the arbitrary manner in which the death sentences were awarded by different judges and the way public discourse influences such decisions.
  • The Law Commission report in 2015 has said that the constitutional regulation of capital punishment attempted in the case of Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab has failed to prevent death sentences from being “arbitrarily and freakishly imposed”.
  • The Law Commission in its report had even asserted that there exists no principled method to remove arbitrariness from capital sentencing.
  • The ground for the imposing of capital punishment usually revolves around the nature of the crime, its gravity and cruelty, and the number of fatalities. But in recent time’s public outrage, the need for deterrence, and the clamour for a befitting punishment to render substantial justice have dominated the discourse.
  • This leads to arbitrariness because theories of punishment on whether it ought to be punitive, retributive, reformative or restorative are less relevant to the public imagination and the law enforcers when the crime is grave and heinous.
  • There could also be a conflict between those who sense the danger of inconsistent application and those who believe in condign justice. This conflict can be resolved only if the debate is taken to a higher level: a moral position that there shall be no death penalty in law, regardless of the nature, circumstances, and consequences of an offence.

Critics of the capital punishment argue that as perception of arbitrariness in the way death sentences are awarded still prevails, the only lasting solution is their abolition.


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